Thursday, 26 September 2013

Jack White/Seasick Steve Lo-Fi School of Guitar

In an age of the big guitar manufacturing custom shops (read corporate), and dozen's of Far Eastern makers of pretty decent cheap Fender and Gibson clones, some players are still drawn to what many would think is a piece of tatty junk gathering dust in the corner, or an example of tacky, 60's style guitar kitsch. The two most notorious example's treading the boards at the moment are Jack White and Seasick Steve.

I really love this lo-fi/DIY vintage approach to the instrument, it has a true Punk spit in the eye vibe about it: "yeah, I like messing about with old guitars, but I ain't gonna throw away my hard earned wedge on a vastly overpriced factory production line 'custom aged' axe thanks very much". I mean, get your Hendrix Monterrey Strat or Clapton 'Blackie' here, limited run of 500, each scratch and ding identical ... it ain't exactly about individuality anymore is it?

The wonders of the web, and specifically Ebay and YouTube, now make it easier and cheaper than ever to source your own guitar parts and learn how to put them together. You can now design and construct your very own boutique guitar, beat it up, paint it in crazy colours, fit your own specific electronics and make a personal statement - musically, aesthetically, economically, and ultimately politically.

I see the 'Partscaster' movement as fantastically empowering for the humble street level guitar lover. All those years many of us have spent gawping into guitar shop windows hoping for that lottery win or inheritance from some eccentric uncle so we could buy our 'dream guitar'... or several dream guitars. What a crock of shit, really.

It's funny, but until a couple of years ago when I read some guy on a forum talking about how lots of people seemed to have difficulty equating cynical capitalist principles with the seemingly edgy and mythical world of big name electric guitar manufacture, I'd always thought somehow, that these instruments and their manufacturers were above that (I mean it's rock 'n' roll man, isn't it?)

Now this isn't to say that Fender and Gibson don't make great guitars, because usually they do, but it must be remembered that they deal in dreams, and let's face it, a lot of the mythology they deal in with their vintage vibe is based on some supposed 'golden age', which you as a consumer are buying into when you part with all that money.

We are colluding in a corporate dream when we desire that daphne blue 60's strat, or sunburst Les Paul - it's like there's some kind of Platonic realm of the true guitar templates and by spending enough money we can get closer to some transcendental ideal, actually tap into the spirit of those Halcyon days of Yore.

Nothing wrong with nostalgia, but it ain't what it used to be, and especially if it becomes standardized in a mass production process that gets away from the individual creative ideal that is the most important thing of all. I do admire the creative genius of folks like Les Paul and Leo Fender, thank god that they put all that time into developing the solid body electric guitar, but I still want to make an instrument that's a little more unique to me, being creative rather than just consuming.

Making a decent Partscaster is not always super cheap or easy, and yes, the folks who sell the parts are still part of the capitalist machine, but at least the end user is being a little more creative and tapping into the artisan spirit that inspired those first guitar makers.

(I know, I've gone a little off topic as regards the lo-fi vintage guitar thing, but I think you'll understand how players like Jack White and Seasick Steve reflect that DIY vibe).

~ H-Allen